Although the 1993 federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave for certain family and medical reasons, that leave doesn't come with pay. Needless to say, the lack of income can make it very difficult for employees to afford to take much time off—whether it's for the birth or adoption of a child or a medical crisis. In a 2017 report, the Pew Research Center found that 40% of workers who took family leave report that they took less time off than they needed or wanted to. That's where the concept of paid family and medical leave (PFML) comes in.

The United States is one of the only developed countries in the world that doesn't offer a nationwide PFML policy. President Biden's proposed American Families Plan would fill that gap if that proposal is included in the final bill and if that bill is approved by Congress.

A very small but growing number of states (plus the District of Columbia) have also stepped in to fill the gap. In 2016, just four states had PFML policies on the books. Today, that number has more than doubled—but only to nine out of 50, and laws in three of those states won't go into effect until 2022 or later.

The specifics of PFML policies can vary significantly from state to state. What follows is an examination of each, specifying what (and whom) they cover, how long they last, and how much of a worker's salary they are intended to replace. First, though, learn the basics of family and medical leave, and how state laws differ from the federal Family Medical Leave Act.

Key Takeaways

  • Nine states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington) and the District of Columbia offer—or will offer—PFML. Hawaii provides paid medical leave in the form of temporary disability insurance.
  • There are five states with PFML policies that don't include job protection for both components—medical and family. Two of these states, however, offer this protection for family leave.
  • Of the states that have PFML policies currently on the books, seven are presently in effect. Of those still pending, a PFML policy is scheduled to begin at the start of each year up until 2024.

The Need for Family and Medical Leave

Family and medical leave can have powerful, positive effects. A 2014 study from the Institute for Women's Policy Research found that a sufficient period of maternal leave can prevent depression and stress in mothers, increase the likelihood that infants will receive well-baby care, and even lower the rate of mortality for infants and young children. Paternal leave can significantly reduce familial stress and encourage father-child bonding.

And let's not forget the major life changes you can't plan for, such as illness or injury. Paid family and medical leave can patch up some of the holes in America's social safety net.

Difficulties in Taking Family or Medical Leave

For some of us, it may seem inconceivable that we'll ever have to choose between our jobs and taking care of a sick family member—or ourselves. Plus, no one should have to live in fear of being one debilitating accident away from a total loss of income. Yet that's what often happens to American workers.

According to a 2017 report from the Center for American Progress, of the 7 million workers without paid family and medical leave, 35.8% needed family caregiving leave but couldn't afford to take unpaid time off. In 2015, AARP found that 61% of caregivers experienced at least one change in their employment, such as cutting back on work hours or taking a leave of absence. Of this number, 14% reduced their hours or took a demotion, 5% turned down a promotion, 4% chose early retirement, and 6% gave up working entirely.

Conversely, a 2016 study of California’s PFML program by the Center for American Progress found a 14% increase in labor force participation in 2011. Because of this program, the longest-running of its kind in the U.S., family caregivers were better able to balance their career and family responsibilities and maintain the income they needed to sustain their livelihoods.

It's also not uncommon to have a short-term disability; it happens to 5.6% of working Americans on average each year. The consequences of this can be severe. A 2014 study reported in Maine and Northeastern University law reviews found that 26% of consumer bankruptcy filings were due to medical bills, 20% were due to a lost job, and 15% were due to an illness or injury on part of the worker or a family member.

What Is Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML)?

The U.S. Department of Labor defines PFML as paid time away from work due to circumstances that require a longer-term period of absence than the employer's regular sick-days policies offer. It has two basic components:

  • Paid family leave allows workers to take time off in order to care for ill family members or a new child. It's also known as "family caregiver leave" and "family leave insurance."
  • Paid medical leave is for taking time off for one's own serious illness or injury. It's also known as "temporary disability insurance" and "short-term disability."

Currently, nine states plus the District of Columbia offer PFML. Hawaii offers paid medical leave in the form of temporary disability insurance, but not paid family leave. The specifics of how both policies work can vary significantly by state, though they typically function by providing a weekly "benefit payment" that's a percentage of the worker's usual income during their leave.

Also, it's important to remember that though paid family leave does provide time off to care for a newborn, it doesn't always pertain to the pregnancy itself. This period falls under pregnancy leave, which is usually a combination of a workers' sick days, vacation days, holiday time, personal days, short-term disability coverage, and unpaid family leave time. In addition, paid medical leave doesn't cover the minor, temporary illnesses that "sick days" are traditionally used for, such as a bad cold or bout of the flu.

As part of their paid family leave policies, four states also offer what's known as "safe leave." Occasionally referred to as "safe time," it refers to absence from work to address certain medical and nonmedical needs that arise from situations such as domestic violence, harassment, stalking, or sexual assault.

PFML vs. Other Leave Programs

PFML isn't the only type of time off from work. There are a number of other programs, some of which sound confusingly alike. It's important to be able to tell them apart and see which applies when time off is needed.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993 provides up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave for certain family and medical reasons. The FMLA covers private-sector employers who have 50 or more employees, public agencies, and private or public elementary/secondary schools. Additionally, the FMLA allows eligible employees to take up to 26 workweeks of leave in a "single 12-month period" to care for a covered military-service member with a serious injury or illness.

Yes, it sounds a lot like PFML. The big difference is that the FMLA's leave is unpaid time off. Mandated—but on your own dime.

Also, under the FMLA, employers are required to give employees their jobs back at the end of their leave. Note that five of the states that have PFML policies don't offer this protection, and two offer it exclusively for family leave.

Paid Sick Leave

PFML shouldn't be confused with paid sick leave, which requires employers in certain states, cities, counties, and towns to provide paid leave for short-term health needs and preventive care. The states with paid sick leave laws are California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Vermont, the last of which is the only one that currently doesn't also offer PFML.

Covered Contracts

State and municipal paid sick leave laws shouldn't be confused with an executive order signed by President Obama in 2015—officially known as Paid Sick Leave, Executive Order 13706—which requires companies with federal government "covered contracts" to provide paid sick leave to employees. Granted, both policies are otherwise fairly similar. For instance, both allow employees to earn paid sick leave hours in exchange for a certain amount of hours worked, and both offer job protection.

PFML State-by-State Breakdown

Below is our analysis of the policies offered by each of the nine states (plus the District of Columbia) that offer PFML, as well as Hawaii's paid medical leave policy. Of the states that have PFML policies currently on the books, seven are active as of March 2021.

California

  • Status: Active 
  • Percentage of Wages: 60–70% of a worker's average weekly wage
  • Maximum Weekly Benefit: Currently $1,357 (approximately 100% of the statewide average weekly wage)
  • Length of Benefits: Up to 52 weeks of medical leave for any period of disability and up to eight weeks of family leave in a 12-month period (California doesn't specify a cumulative limit)
  • Unpaid Waiting Period: One week (medical leave only)

California offers both disability insurance and paid family leave. The former can be used for a serious off-the-job illness or injury, while the latter can be used for bonding with a child within one year of their birth (or placement for foster care/adoption) or caring for a family member with a serious health condition.

These policies automatically apply to employees already covered by California unemployment insurance law, excluding most public-sector workers. Public-sector employers can opt into coverage, but this may require a negotiated agreement with an authorized bargaining unit. Domestic workers will be subject to a low minimum payment requirement. To qualify, workers must have earned at least $300 (which may be income combined from more than one employer) during a base period of the first four of the five most recently completed quarters. Earlier quarters may be included if the worker was unemployed during at least part of the base period.

Covered family members include the worker's child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse/registered domestic partner, or a parent of their spouse/registered domestic partner. Workers aren't entitled to have their job back at the end of their leave (though they may have protections under other state laws).

Colorado

  • Status: Begins Jan. 1, 2024
  • Percentage of Wages: 90% of a worker's weekly wage (up to an amount equal to 50% of the statewide average weekly wage) and 50% of a worker's weekly wage (above an amount equal to 50% of the statewide average weekly wage)
  • Maximum Weekly Benefit: Initially $1,100 (adjusted annually after the first year to 90% of the statewide average weekly wage)
  • Length of Benefits: Up to a maximum of 12 weeks in an application year (for medical, family, and/or safe leave, and workers with pregnancy/childbirth-related health needs may receive up to an additional four weeks of benefits)
  • Unpaid Waiting Period: No

Colorado plans to offer PFML, which will be usable for a worker's own health conditions, bonding with a child within one year of their birth (or placement for foster care/adoption), caring for a family member with a serious health condition, addressing certain military family needs, or safe leave.

These policies will automatically apply to nearly all employees in the state of Colorado. Local-government employers may decline coverage, though their employees can still opt into wage-replacement benefits. To qualify, workers will have to have earned at least $2,500 (which may be income combined from more than one employer) during a base period of the first four of the past five completed quarters or the four most recently completed quarters.

Covered family members will include the worker's child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse/domestic partner, a parent of their spouse/domestic partner, a grandparent of their spouse/domestic partner, a child of their spouse/domestic partner, a sibling of their spouse/domestic partner, or an individual the worker has a significant personal bond with who is—or is like—family. Workers will be entitled to have their job back at the end of their leave, so long as they have been employed by their employer for at least 180 days prior to taking leave.

Connecticut

  • Status: Begins between Jan. 1, 2022, and Feb. 1, 2022
  • Percentage of Wages: 95% of a worker's average weekly wage (up to an amount equal to 40 times the state minimum wage) and 60% of a worker's average weekly wage (above an amount equal to 40 times the state minimum wage)
  • Maximum Weekly Benefit: $780 (60 times the state minimum wage)
  • Length of Benefits: Up to a maximum of 12 weeks in a 12-month period (for medical and/or family leave, and workers with pregnancy/childbirth-related health needs may receive up to an additional two weeks of benefits)
  • Unpaid Waiting Period: No

Connecticut plans to offer PFML. The former will be usable for bonding with a child within one year of their birth (or placement for foster care/adoption), caring for a family member with a serious health condition, addressing certain military family needs, or safe time. The latter will be usable for a worker's own serious health conditions.

These policies will automatically apply to all private-sector and many public-sector employees in the state of Connecticut, though the latter may depend on their involvement in a collective bargaining unit and for what said bargaining unit has negotiated. To qualify, workers will have to have earned at least $2,325 (which may be income combined from more than one employer) during a base period of the first four of the five most recently completed quarters.

Covered family members will include the worker's son/daughter, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse, a parent of their spouse, a grandparent of their spouse, or an individual related to the worker by blood/affinity whose relationship is the equivalent of a family relationship. Workers are entitled to have their job back at the end of their leave, so long as they have been employed by their employer for at least three months prior to taking leave. This caveat doesn't apply to safe time.

District of Columbia

  • Status: Active
  • Percentage of Wages: 90% of a worker's average weekly wage (up to an amount equal to 40 times 150% of the D.C. minimum wage) and 50% of a worker's average weekly wage (above an amount equal to 40 times 150% of the D.C. minimum wage)
  • Maximum Weekly Benefit: $1,000 (adjusted annually based on inflation)
  • Length of Benefits: Up to a maximum of eight weeks in a 52-week period (up to two weeks of medical leave, up to six weeks of caring for a sick relative, and/or up to eight weeks of bonding with a new child)
  • Unpaid Waiting Period: One week

The District of Columbia offers universal paid leave, which can be used for a worker's own health conditions, for bonding with a child within one year of their birth (or placement for foster care/adoption), or caring for a family member with a serious health condition.

This policy automatically applies to most private-sector employees in Washington, D.C. Domestic workers will be subject to a low minimum payment requirement. There are no formal eligibility requirements; however, employees who have worked for covered D.C. employer(s) for less than one year may receive a prorated benefit amount.

Covered family members include the worker's child, parent, grandparent, sibling, spouse/registered domestic partner, or a parent-in-law. Workers aren't entitled to have their job back at the end of their medical leave, though they are in the case of family leave.

Of the states offering paid family and medical leave programs, there are two—New Jersey and Rhode Island—that don't allow self-employed workers to opt into coverage.

Hawaii

  • Status: Active for paid medical leave only
  • Percentage of Wages: 58% of a worker's average weekly wage (up to approximately 70% of the statewide average weekly wage)
  • Maximum Weekly Benefit: Currently $640 (58% of the statewide average weekly wage and rounded to the next highest dollar, up to a maximum of $640)
  • Length of Benefits: Starting from the eighth day of disability and ending after a maximum of 26 weeks
  • Unpaid Waiting Period: One week

Hawaii offers temporary disability insurance, which can be used for a worker's own serious off-the-job illness or injury. To qualify, workers must have worked for at least 14 weeks (20 hours per week) and earned at least $400 (which may be income combined from more than one employer) in the 52 weeks prior to the start of the disability.

Some workers are ineligible for coverage. These include—but aren't limited to—federal employees, certain domestic workers, insurance agents and real estate salespersons (paid solely on a commission basis), individuals under 18 years of age who deliver or distribute newspapers, certain family employees, student nurses, and hospital interns who have completed a four-year course in medical school.

Massachusetts

  • Status: Active (benefits for family caregiving begin July 1, 2021)
  • Percentage of Wages: 80% of a worker's average weekly wage (up to an amount equal to 40 times the statewide minimum wage) and 60% of a worker's average weekly wage (above an amount equal to 40 times the statewide minimum wage)
  • Maximum Weekly Benefit: Initially $850 (adjusted annually after the first year to 64% of the statewide average weekly wage)
  • Length of Benefits: Up to a maximum of 26 weeks in any benefit year (up to 20 weeks of medical leave and/or up to 12 weeks of family leave); military caregivers can receive up to 26 weeks of family leave
  • Unpaid Waiting Period: One week

Massachusetts plans to offer both paid family and medical leave by mid-2021. The former, which took effect at the beginning of 2021, is usable for bonding with a child within one year of their birth (or placement for foster care/adoption), caring for a family member with a serious health condition, or addressing certain military family needs. The latter will be usable for a worker's own serious health conditions.

These policies will automatically apply to employees already covered by Massachusetts unemployment insurance law, excluding some public-sector workers. Public-sector employers not covered by the law are able to opt into coverage. Additionally, some self-employed workers will be automatically covered. To qualify, workers will have to have earned at least $4,700 (which may be income combined from more than one employer) during a base period of the past four completed quarters or the three most recently completed quarters and the portion of the quarter that's already occurred. Additionally, workers will also have to meet an earnings requirement tied to their average earnings equal to at least 15 weeks of work.

Covered family members will include the worker's child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse/domestic partner, or a parent of their spouse/domestic partner. Workers are entitled to have their job back at the end of their leave.

New Jersey

  • Status: Active
  • Percentage of Wages: 85% of a worker's average weekly wage
  • Maximum Weekly Benefit: Currently $903 (70% of the statewide average weekly wage)
  • Length of Benefits: Up to 26 weeks of medical leave for any period of disability and up to 12 weeks of family leave in a 12-month period (New Jersey doesn't specify a cumulative limit)
  • Unpaid Waiting Period: One week (medical leave only; workers eligible for benefits during each of three consecutive weeks after the waiting period can also receive benefits for that week)

New Jersey offers both temporary disability insurance and family leave insurance. The former can be used for a serious off-the-job illness or injury, while the latter can be used for bonding with a child within one year of their birth (or placement for foster care/adoption), caring for a family member with a serious health condition, or safe time.

These policies automatically apply to employees already covered by New Jersey unemployment insurance law; while most public-sector workers aren't automatically covered by the temporary disability insurance policy, they can still opt in. Domestic workers will be subject to a low minimum payment requirement. To qualify, workers must have earned at least 20 times the N.J. minimum wage (currently $240 at $12 per hour), which may be income combined from more than one employer, in at least 20 weeks. Alternatively, they need to have earned 1,000 times the hourly minimum wage (or $12,000) during a base period of the first four of the five most recently completed quarters, the four most recently completed quarters, or the three most recently completed quarters and the portion of the quarter that's already occurred.

Covered family members include the worker's child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse/registered domestic partner/civil union partner, a parent-in-law, any other person related to the worker by blood, or an individual the worker has a significant personal bond with whose relationship is the equivalent of a family relationship. Workers aren't entitled to have their job back at the end of their leave, though the law was amended to provide additional anti-retaliation provisions.

New York

  • Status: Active
  • Percentage of Wages: 50% of a worker's average weekly wage (medical leave) and 60% of a worker's average weekly wage (family leave)
  • Maximum Weekly Benefit: $170 for medical leave and $971.61 for family leave (67% of the statewide average weekly wage)
  • Length of Benefits: Up to a maximum of 26 weeks in a 52-week period (up to 26 weeks of medical leave for any period of disability or in any 52-week period) and/or up to 10 weeks of family leave
  • Unpaid Waiting Period: One week (medical leave only)

New York offers both temporary disability insurance and paid family leave. The former can be used for a serious off-the-job illness or injury, while the latter can be used for bonding with a child within one year of its birth (or placement for foster care/adoption), caring for a family member with a serious health condition, or addressing certain military family needs.

These policies automatically apply to most private-sector employees in the state of New York. Public-sector employers can opt into coverage, and unions covering public-sector workers can opt into paid family leave through a collective bargaining process. Full-time domestic workers are also covered, so long as they work 40 hours per week for a single employee.

To qualify for temporary disability insurance, workers typically must have been employed for at least four consecutive weeks by a single employer. Workers who previously met this qualification will automatically qualify when starting employment with a new covered employer. To qualify for paid family leave, workers typically must have been employed for at least 26 consecutive weeks by their current employer. For those who work less than 20 hours per week, they must have worked at least 175 days for their current employer.

Covered family members include the worker's child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse/registered domestic partner, or a parent-in-law. Workers aren't entitled to have their job back at the end of their medical leave, though they are in the case of family leave.

Oregon

  • Status: Begins Jan. 1, 2023
  • Percentage of Wages: 100% of a worker's average weekly wage (up to an amount equal to 65% of the statewide average weekly wage) and 60% of a worker's average weekly wage (above an amount equal to 65% of the statewide average weekly wage)
  • Maximum Weekly Benefit: 120% of the statewide average weekly wage
  • Length of Benefits: Up to a maximum of 12 weeks in any benefit year (for medical, family, and/or safe leave); workers with pregnancy/childbirth-related health needs may receive up to an additional two weeks of benefits
  • Unpaid Waiting Period: No

Oregon plans to offer PFML. The former will be usable for bonding with a child within one year of their birth (or placement for foster care/adoption), caring for a family member with a serious health condition, or safe leave. The latter will be usable for a worker's own serious health conditions.

These policies will automatically apply to all employees in the state of Oregon, excluding employees of federal and tribal governments. Tribal governments are able to opt into coverage. To qualify, workers will have to have earned at least $1,000 (which may be income combined from more than one employer) during a base period of the first four of the past five completed quarters or the four most recently completed quarters.

Covered family members will include the worker's child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse/registered domestic partner, a parent of their spouse/registered domestic partner, a child-in-law, or an individual related to a covered individual by blood/affinity whose relationship is the equivalent of a family relationship. Workers are entitled to have their job back at the end of their leave, so long as they have been employed by their employer for at least 90 days prior to taking leave.

25%

Percentage of private and nonfederal public employers offering paid parental leave to employees, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation's 2019 KFF Employer Health Benefits Survey.

Rhode Island

  • Status: Active
  • Percentage of Wages: Approximately 60% of a worker's average weekly wage (formally, 4.62% of a worker's wages in the highest-earning quarter of the base year)
  • Maximum Weekly Benefit: Currently $887 (85% of the statewide average weekly wage)
  • Length of Benefits: Up to a maximum of 30 weeks in a 52-week period (up to 30 weeks of medical leave and/or four weeks of family leave)
  • Unpaid Waiting Period: No

Rhode Island offers both temporary disability insurance and temporary caregiver insurance. The former can be used for a serious off-the-job illness or injury, while the latter can be used for bonding with a child within one year of their birth (or placement for foster care/adoption) or caring for a family member with a serious health condition.

These policies automatically apply to employees already covered by Rhode Island unemployment insurance law. While public-sector workers aren't automatically covered by the temporary disability insurance policy, they can still opt in, as can unions covering public-sector workers through a collective bargaining process. Domestic workers will be subject to a low minimum payment requirement. To qualify, workers must have earned at least 200 times the R.I. minimum wage (currently $2,300 at $11.50 per hour) in one quarter of the base period, at least 1.5 times the worker's highest-earning quarter across the base period, and at least 400 times the minimum wage (currently $4,600) over the entire base period (which may be income combined from more than one employer).

Covered family members include the worker's child, parent, grandparent, spouse/registered domestic partner, or a parent of their spouse/registered domestic partner. Workers aren't entitled to have their job back at the end of their medical leave, though they are in the case of family leave.

Washington

  • Status: Active
  • Percentage of Wages: 90% of a worker's average weekly wage (up to an amount equal to 50% of the statewide average weekly wage) and 50% of a worker's average weekly wage (above an amount equal to 50% of the statewide average weekly wage)
  • Maximum Weekly Benefit: Initially $1,206 (adjusted annually after the first year to 90% of the statewide average weekly wage)
  • Length of Benefits: Up to a maximum of 16 weeks in a 52-week period (up to 12 weeks of medical and/or family leave); workers with pregnancy/childbirth-related health needs may receive up to an additional two weeks of benefits
  • Unpaid Waiting Period: One week (medical and family leave, excluding bonding leave)

Washington offers PFML. The former can be used for bonding with a child within one year of their birth (or placement for foster care/adoption), caring for a family member with a serious health condition, or addressing certain military family needs. The latter can be used for a worker's own serious health conditions.

These policies automatically apply to all employees in the state of Washington. To qualify, workers must have worked for at least 820 hours (which may be hours combined from more than one employer) during a qualifying period of the first four of the five most recently completed quarters or the four most recently completed quarters.

Covered family members include the worker's child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse/registered domestic partner, or a parent of their spouse/registered domestic partner. Workers are entitled to have their job back at the end of their medical leave, but only if they meet specific eligibility requirements similar to those of the FMLA.